Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan using the Navodhana Samrakshana Samithi (Renaissance Protection Forum) to silence the uprising against women's entry into Sabarimala was widely thought to be, if the Lok Sabha results are any pointer, as inappropriate as using water cannons to silence hyperactive kindergarten kids.
It was felt that renaissance was too profound and all-encompassing a weapon to be used against an odd practice of a temple.
Bar on women of child-bearing age into Sabarimala was an exception, not the rule. Even the CPM had veered around to this view.
But now that Pinarayi Vijayan has been left holding the mighty water canon called the Renaissance Protection Forum, he will have to put it to worthier uses. He cannot just drop the cannon and look funny and tame.
What's new on the agenda
What the chief minister has therefore done is, he has shifted his aim. Here, according to the Forum's convenor and Kerala Pulayar Mahasabha (KPMS) general secretary Punnala Sreekumar, are the new targets: “Honour killings, mob lynching, attacks on the freedom of expression, gender equality.”
“Navodhana Samrakshana Samithi is a platform for right-thinking people to raise their voice when decadent practices like honour killings and mob lynchings that were once heard of only in North India are slowly becoming a reality in Kerala. Sabarimala women's entry might have been the immediate prod for the Samithi's formation but it is not the reason for its existence,” Punnala said.
In other words, women's entry into Sabarimala has gone past its sell by date and has been junked.
Sabarimala in the way of secularism
Shedding the Sabarimala baggage will also allow the Renaissance Protection Forum to enter its second phase.
“A major charge against the Samithi was that it was filled with Hindu organisations. Initially, it was the case as the fight was against orthodoxy in the Sabarimala issue. Our effort now is to include more minority groups in the Samithi and give it a secular face. Already, we have bishops and moulavis in our fold. We will be holding public gatherings at the district level during October to showcase this secular side,” Sreekumar said.
The activities of the Samithi will climax with the Navodhana Smrithi Yatra (Renaissance Memorial Yatra) from Kasargod in the north, touching all major 'renaissance destinations' along the way like Guruvayur and Vaikom and Aruvippuram, to Swami Thoppu down South in Kanyakumari, the birthplace of Vaikunta Swamikal whom many consider the father of renaissance in Kerala.
Hindu Parliament's threat
Sreekumar said he was not worried about Hindu Parliament general secretary C P Sugathan's announcement on September 12 that the 90-odd organisations that were part of Hindu Parliament would withdraw from the Samithi.
“Hindu Parliament is the apex body of 92 independent organisations. It has no operational control over any of them. These organisations are free to take their own decisions. The chairman of Hindu Parliament, P R Devadas himself, has said that he did not subscribe to Sugathan's stand,” Sreekumar said.
Sugathan was a problematic presence even during the formation of the Samithi. He was a 'kar sevak' who had gone to Ayodhya, and had reportedly made shockingly misogynistic statements.
To pick such a man as joint convenor of a body that was supposed to fight gender injustice was then considered self-defeating.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan but was swayed by the 'enemy's enemy is a friend' axiom. He brushed aside all objections and chose Sugathan as the joint convenor of the Samithi mainly for his strident anti-RSS stand.
Right after the formation of the Samithi, Sugathan pulled it the other way.
He said the Samithi had nothing to do with the entry of women into Sabarimala, deeply embarrassing Pinarayi Vijayan.
The Samithi's chairman Vellapally Natesan, perhaps caught between the chief minister and his son Thushar Vellapally who was wedded to the BJP, too said renaissance was separate from Sabarimala.
Polarising hill shrine
Sabarimala, without doubt, was the trigger for reviving the renaissance slogan. It were the 'nama japa' protests, a seemingly spontaneous uprising of mostly upper caste women, that forced the chief minister to call a meeting of progressive caste and religious bodies to protect renaissance values.
But it also also sowed the first seeds of discord with the newly-minted body. While the chairman (Vellapally) and joint convenor (Sugathan) wanted Sabarimala to be kept out, the convenor (Sreekumar) saw the bar on women's entry as regressive.
The upshot was there was no clarity on what were renaissance values.
In short, the Samithi was just a knee-jerk political reaction to what was termed by the Left as “the rise of the orthodoxy”.
Great wall and the silence
The CPM's ambiguity was the next big challenge for the Renaissance Forum.
The supposedly huge success of the 'Women's Wall' on the first day of 2019 might have felt hollow even before the massive drubbing the CPM had suffered at the polls.
Not even the chief minister, the biggest champion of Sabarimala women's entry, touched upon the issue during the campaign. After the election shock, the CPM state committee even concluded that its Sabarimala tactics had alienated a section of the faithful.
Lone ranger Pinarayi
The Samithi looked as good as dead. But the chief minister himself infused life back into the Samithi. On August 28, while renaming the VJT Hall in the capital as Ayyankali Hall, he said that there were dark dungeons where the light of renaissance was yet to shine. “We will take our agenda forward till we erase darkness completely,” he said.
Pinarayi Vijayan identified two areas where the reform agenda had failed: gender equality and the emancipation of the lower castes.
Punnala Sreekumar has taken this for a green signal. After the elections, when the CPM was keen to hush up the renaissance agenda, he had openly sought clarity from the chief minister.
Even during the first meeting of the Samithi called after the elections, the chief minister had made it clear that he wanted the second renaissance movement to continue.
Pinarayi Vijayan has defiantly refused to acknowledge that the party's loss was the result of his stand on Sabarimala.
“We work with the government and not the party,” Sreekumar said.